Should Portland adopt participatory budgeting?

Multiple council candidates have endorsed a proposed ballot measure that would increase Portlanders’ influence over the city budget.

Maja Viklands Harris Avatar
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Note: Since this story was published, the petitioners have decided to delay their initiative until the 2026 election.

Over fifteen council candidates have endorsed an initiative petition that would give Portlanders a direct say over a slice of the city budget. The proposed measure mandates that the city allocate 2% of its discretionary general fund to projects developed and chosen by Portlanders – a process known as “participatory budgeting.”

Jim Labbe, co-chief petitioner and the director of Participatory Budgeting Oregon says Portland is the last major West Coast City without participatory budgeting. 

“Portlanders are eager and ready for the chance to finally bring this new way of governing—demonstrated in dozens of other U.S. cities and around the globe—to our city,” said Labbe, who is currently gathering signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.

Residents pick the projects to fund.

The measure would create a process allowing residents to submit funding proposals directly to the city, where they would be reviewed by a special committee. These would then be voted on by the public and, if approved, implemented by city staff. If approved, the city must fund this program starting in the 2026-2027 fiscal year and launch it by July 2027.

“Participatory budgeting offers a collaborative, inclusive, and deliberative complement to the city’s budgeting process that is too often dominated by wealthy insiders,” co-petitioner Isabela Villareal told Rose City Reform.

Candidates who have endorsed the initiative include Reuben Berlin, Daniel Demelo, Jessie Cornett, Timur Ender, Chris Flanary, Marnie Glickman, Mitch Green, Debbie Kitchin, Tiffany Koyama Lane, John Middleton, Angelita Morillo, Christopher Olson, Steph Routh, Deian Salazar, Jeremy Smith, Laura Streib, and Andra Vltavín.

Not All Candidates Are in Favor

“I oppose enshrining mandatory budget set-asides in the city charter,” said Bob Weinstein, a candidate in District 4.

“What’s next? If this succeeds, other advocacy groups will want mandatory budget set-asides in the Charter that will further limit the city’s ability to address priorities and problems that arise,” he cautioned.

According to the ballot title, approximately $15.6 million would be allocated to the participatory budgeting program in its first year, increasing to nearly $16 million the following year. While Labbe says these figures are based on the City Budget Office’s projections, the city did not respond to Rose City Reform’s requests for confirmation.

Portland’s neighbor to the north leads nation in PB investments

Seattle, which began its participatory budgeting (PB) process in 2015, currently boasts the largest particpatory budgeting program in the nation. In 2023, the program collected $27 million, to be spent on projects such as a community center for Native youth and public restrooms, as well as investments in Seattle’s unarmed mental health crisis response team, housing support, rental assitance, and urban farming projects.

“It’s been said that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution but the
furthest away from resources and power. PB gets more people into decision making spaces
increasing co-creation, lifting perspectives we aren’t proximate to, and challenging us to expand
our collective win story.,” said Seattle Office for Civil Rights Director Derrick Wheeler-Smith.

Seattle’s participatory budgeting program is implemented by ordinance and not enshrined in the charter, which means the city council can choose to discontinue it. In contrast, Portland’s proposal enshrines the process into the city charter, which would require a vote of the people to end it.

The voting process for Seattle’s participatory budgeting is open to all Seattle residents. In 2023, approximately 4,000 people participated in the voting process.

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